(C) Jeremy Hemming, press conference for Flora 1000 Mile Challenge at the Tower, London (November 2002)
(C) Jeremy Hemming, press conference for Flora 1000 Mile Challenge at the Tower, London (November 2002)

 


My friend the supermodel

Evening Gazette 05/03/03 By Barbara Argument

This is the amazing story of a cash-strapped Teesside athlete and the rich supermodel who magically became her fairy godmother.

One is the tall and dazzling Aussie catwalk queen, Elle 'The Body' MacPherson. Married to wealthy French banker, Arpad Busson, she has two young sons and a posse of staff at luxury homes around the world.

The other is tiny former bus driver Sharon Gayter, Teesside's gutsy extreme distance runner, now days into an epic, six-week endurance run.

Married to lorry driver Bill, she lives in a modest Guisborough semi, has two lively dogs and works to pay for her sport.

The only thing the women seem to share is their age. Both are 39.

Yet the supermodel and the 24-hour runner became friends after a chance meeting at a North Yorkshire castle.

And now Elle is sponsoring Sharon's running to the tune of £13,000 a year.

Sports' masseur Sharon was called in to soothe away pregnant mum Elle's stresses and strains.

"I'm the envy of every male we know because I've seen Elle in the nude," laughs Sharon.

"She gave birth to her new baby Aurelius at the beginning of February and I can say I massaged him when he was a bump! It was a real privilege to feel the baby move as I gently massaged her tummy."

The surprise call had a fairytale end for Sharon when Elle and her husband heard about Sharon's athletic talent.

They were shocked to hear she had to work to keep on running. And decided to help out.

Now sexy underwear company Elle MacPherson Intimates has sealed a deal to sponsor everything from Sharon's travelling expenses to the trainers she pounds through at the rate of a pair a month.

Sharon may laugh at the thought of wearing desirable flimsies when she's running.

But what she is excited about is a brand-new custom-made kit from the company's top designers and enough money to feel on easy street.

The sponsorship deal is a dream come true for Sharon, sheer guts have made her Britain's No 1 women's ultra- distance runner and 100 kilometre champ.

She fought back to fitness after a horrific ankle injury in a bike accident threatened her career.

The money meant she could head off for warm weather training in Elle's native Australia and not worry about the cost of buying 12 pairs of trainers a year.

The trip boosted her chances in the Flora 1,000-mile Challenge, which kicked off on Sunday and ends on April 13 at the finishing line of the London Marathon.

Billed as the toughest endurance race ever staged, entry is by invitation only and Sharon is desperate to win.

Sponsorship from Elle is a huge weight off the shoulders of the hard-working athlete.

"I'd given up looking for support because I've always been knocked back," chuckles Sharon.

"Then when I wasn't looking, it was handed to me on a plate."

The fairytale started with a phone call before Christmas to the mobile sports massage business Sharon runs with Bill, who keeps his wife's super-tuned body in peak condition. Both are qualified sports masseurs.

A voice asked if she would be available for eight-weeks to massage away the aches and pains of guests at a shooting party at Mulgrave Castle, near Whitby.

"It was all very hush-hush at the time," laughs Sharon. "But of course I said yes."

When she arrived, the reason for the cloak and dagger stuff was clear. Elle and Arpad turned out to be the high-profile couple who had hired the castle for the season with guests including royalty, show-biz celebrities and politicians.

Sharon keeps firmly mum on the names, insisting she would be breaking a confidence.

"These are very busy people who are used to having their every whim attended to, but Elle and Arpad are so down-to-earth and nice," says Sharon.

"Their gorgeous little boy Flynn was there and though there are nannies, Elle is just like any mother looking after him. He'd peed his pants one day and she just scooped him up and rushed off to change him.

"But they do live in another world. For instance, they hired a private jet every week for £3,700 to fly back to London on business.

"There is a chef and personal assistants and they have homes everywhere in fantastic places.

"Sometimes during the massage they wanted to talk, but other times they just wanted to relax and chill out because they get very tense."

It was Arpad who first floated the sponsorship idea to his wife after Sharon said she dreamed of being a full-time athlete.

Sharon says: "We talked about my running and the next time I went, he said he hadn't realised how successful I was.

"He was surprised to hear I worked to pay for my running and said to write down my expenses and he'd see what he could do.

"At first I let it go, but he persisted and so Bill and I worked out a list and costs.

"I told him sponsoring any part of the cost, like my trainers, would be great. But they decided to cover everything."

Sharon came to live on Teesside as a 25 year old in search of a better life.

She and her brother and sister had a difficult childhood after their mother remarried.

"I used to come home from school and hide away," she admits. "I was very withdrawn because of my family life."

Even now, she wishes her mother would show pride in her achievements as her sister and family do.

When she was eking out a living on a bus driver's wage in a bedsit in Cambridge, Sharon decided to go for something better.

By then the asthmatic schoolgirl - so unsporty she even hated cycling to school - had become hooked on running.

In her first office job, she watched a sixty-something colleague blast through a marathon when she couldn't even jog the half mile to the start. He bought her a pair of trainers for Christmas and she felt so guilty, she went out and ran.

Says Sharon: "I moved because of family circumstances, but also because housing is so expensive in Cambridge.

"I had to do something drastic to change my life, so I toured the country literally looking for somewhere better to live.

"I boiled it down to Cumbria and Teesside, and Teesside won because I loved the hills and housing was cheap."

She arrived in Grangetown and groans: "Two days after moving in I realised my mistake.

"Even the wheels on my car were pinched."

She got a job as a bus driver and met Bill, a driver too, who had just left the army.

"He is everything to me," says Sharon devotedly. "He supports me in everything I do."

She honestly admits children would have restricted a life that they greatly enjoy.

"We talked about it before we married," says Sharon. "One reason was my childhood, but being able to lead the life we do was the main one.

"Now I don't think coming up to 40 it will happen."

After Sharon was beaten up for her bus takings by yobs, it was Bill who encouraged her to follow another dream and take a sports' science degree at Teesside University.

Then he too left the buses after being assaulted, for the life of a long-distance lorry driver, while Sharon went on to lecture at Middlesbrough College.

She always runs 20 miles a day and during term time, training was the run from Guisborough to college and back again.

Now Bill and Sharon have put their jobs on hold to prepare for the six-week Flora marathon and hope to build up their mobile sports massage business that has been such a hit with Elle and co.

Already clients including paralympic Tanni Grey Thompson from Redcar, as well as many average Teessiders, find it helps their mobility.

The pair love running through the beautiful countryside around Guisborough or taking dogs, Bouncer and Walnut, for walks.

"I've never regretted coming here," smiles Sharon.

Sharon's challenge during the next six weeks is billed as the country's toughest endurance race ever.

Her sleep patterns will be wrecked as she battles through 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours at no more than a mile an hour.

That means she will get at the most one-and-a-half hours sleep at a stretch.

The Flora 1,000 Mile Challenge is modelled on one 200 years ago when Captain Robert Barclay won 1,000 guineas (a guinea is £1, one shilling) in a wager.

Sharon is one of five other pre-selected competitors who set out on the challenge last Sunday.

The killer sting in the tail is having to run the 26.2 mile Flora London Marathon before reaching the finishing line.

Bill is the key member of Sharon's support team and their base will be a London bus following them on the marathon route.

Competitors will get £6 for every mile completed and a £1,000 bonus for finishing.

Another £1,000 will go to those clocking under seven hours for the London Marathon and the first man and woman over the line will get another £3,000 prize money.

"And I really want to win it all," says a determined Sharon.

* Follow her progress by logging onto www.sharongayter.com

Fuelled-up for endurance

So how does Sharon Gayter keep on running and running?

Her sports science degree helped Sharon understand what she needed to be the country's No 1 endurance runner.

Her diet is 70pc carbohydrate, 15pc fat and 15pc protein.

She admits it used to be 50pc carbohydrate and has been amazed how her performance levels soared after making the switch.

Nutrition can make a huge 30pc difference, she says, having studied the diets of the nation's top five athletes.

This is Sharon's daily menu:

BREAKFAST: Two Weetabix or two slices of wholemeal toast or porridge.

MORNING AND AFTERNOON: Loads of snacks to keep up energy levels - fruit and nuts. "I'm a great snacker," says Sharon.

LUNCH: Beans on toast and a yogurt or jacket potato.

SUPPER: Chicken tikka with rice or spaghetti bolognaise.

TRAINING: At least 20 miles a day round the hills near Guisborough.

Swimming, gym, weight-training as well as Pilates and Yoga classes to keep the body supple.

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